What Happens When the President Sits Down Next to You at a Cafe

I learned that even Obama knows young people don't use Facebook anymore.
The author, at "work" (Pete Souza/The White House)


Thursday into Friday, my head cold got worse, so on Friday morning I walked down to a bar-cafe-restaurant in my neighborhood. I had been there for a few hours when youthful, vigorous men and women wearing Business Semi-Formal started quietly going one by one among the customers sitting near me. They would crouch, adopt an expression of deep sympathy, and say something. The customer would look a little confused, pick up laptop and coat, and move to another table.

Next to me, cafe staff had made a long table by pushing three smaller tables together. Five Millennials sat around it. They were well-dressed like Ryan Seacrest is well-dressed, and they seemed nervous. The head of their table hadn’t been filled. I had assumed someone important, someone hoity-toity, would be coming, someone like a foundation executive director.

This was a little bit annoying, but my legs ached and the Internet was spotty and I wanted to go to a different, better coffee shop, so I asked for the check.

Then a man, another of the handsome ones, came by.

“Hey,” he murmured. “Will you be leaving soon?”

I said I wasn’t sure. I’d asked for the check.

“Okay,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know the president will be stopping by.”

Oh, I thought. The president of what?

“You’re welcome to stay, but one of our agents will be coming around to swipe you.”

Then I understood. An agent came around to swipe me.

The world is made of people: I get this. Our republic only works if we know our leaders are fallible humans. I disagree with the Obama Administration about plenty. None of this kept me from experiencing immediate, full-on, feverish anxiety.


When the president arrived, 40 minutes later—stepping out of his SUV, smiling, with a little wave—the nerves subsided. The cafe is split into two long halves, and he first turned to visit its opposite half, smiling, shaking hands, shaking more hands.

And then—for the first time in nearly an hour—I could work. I found that I was so accustomed to his voice, how he holds his body, his aura, that ignoring him in person is as easy as ignoring a TV. Easier, in fact. He stops being the president and starts being That Guy Who You See In Tweets, That Guy Who Gives Speeches, That Guy.

That Guy shook exactly half the hands on the other side of the restaurant. He came back to our side. He addressed the five people sitting adjacent to me—who were, indeed, apparently there to talk to him.

That Guy said he would save our whole side of the restaurant for after the meal. But then, next to me, on my other side, he spotted a baby.

He apologized to the group. He could not resist, he said, a baby.

Concerning the Baby

He picked up the baby. The baby’s mom told him about the baby. Before, I had asked her if she would like pictures of them meeting, so I got out my phone and documented the event. One of those pictures is above.

Pete Souza, the official White House photographer, was also there. He documented the event a little better than I did.

There is little else to say about the baby. He was adorable. Obama really seemed to appreciate holding him, and bounced him for probably a minute. The baby's mom told him that their family had just been stationed in Kenya, that that’s where the baby was born.

He seemed to stumble for a second, as he realized he could not phrase a joke in exactly the way he could phrase it in private.

“That’s, that’s where Donald Trump thinks I was born,” he said.

Then he handed the baby back to his mom. It was then that I made my only physical contact with the president.

My Only Physical Contact With the President

The president hands the baby back to its mom. The president makes eye contact with me.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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